Chapter 5. Localization

Table of Contents
5.1. Locale Support
5.1.1. Overview
5.1.2. Benefits
5.1.3. Problems
5.2. Multibyte Support
5.2.1. Enabling MB
5.2.2. Setting the Encoding
5.2.3. Automatic encoding translation between backend and frontend
5.2.4. About Unicode
5.2.5. What happens if the translation is not possible?
5.2.6. References
5.2.7. History
5.2.8. WIN1250 on Windows/ODBC
5.3. Single-byte character set recoding

Describes the available localization features from the point of view of the administrator.

Postgres supports localization with three approaches:

5.1. Locale Support

Locale support refers to an application respecting cultural preferences regarding alphabets, sorting, number formatting, etc. PostgreSQL uses the standard ISO C and POSIX-like locale facilities provided by the server operating system. For additional information refer to the documentation of your system.

5.1.1. Overview

Locale support is not built into PostgreSQL by default; to enable it, supply the --enable-locale option to the configure script:

$ ./configure --enable-locale

Locale support only affects the server; all clients are compatible with servers with or without locale support.

The information about which particular cultural rules to use is determined by standard environment variables. If you are getting localized behavior from other programs you probably have them set up already. The simplest way to set the localization information is the LANG variable, for example:

export LANG=sv_SE
This sets the locale to Swedish (sv) as spoken in Sweden (SE). Other possibilities might be en_US (U.S. English) and fr_CA (Canada, French). If more than one character set can be useful for a locale then the specifications look like this: cs_CZ.ISO8859-2. What locales are available under what names on your system depends on what was provided by the operating system vendor and what was installed.

Occasionally it is useful to mix rules from several locales, e.g., use U.S. collation rules but Spanish messages. To do that a set of environment variables exist that override the default of LANG for a particular category:

LC_COLLATEString sort order
LC_CTYPECharacter classification (What is a letter? The upper-case equivalent?)
LC_MESSAGESLanguage of messages
LC_MONETARYFormatting of currency amounts
LC_NUMERICFormatting of numbers
LC_TIMEFormatting of dates and times

LC_MESSAGES only affects the messages that come from the operating system, not PostgreSQL.

If you want the system to behave as if it had no locale support, use the special locale C or POSIX, or simply unset all locale related variables.

Note that the locale behavior is determined by the environment variables seen by the server, not by the environment of any client. Therefore, be careful to set these variables before starting the postmaster.

The LC_COLLATE and LC_CTYPE variables affect the sort order of indexes. Therefore, these values must be kept fixed for any particular database cluster, or indexes on text columns will become corrupt. Postgres enforces this by recording the values of LC_COLLATE and LC_CTYPE that are seen by initdb. The server automatically adopts those two values when it is started; only the other LC_ categories can be set from the environment at server startup. In short, only one collation order can be used in a database cluster, and it is chosen at initdb time.

5.1.2. Benefits

Locale support influences in particular the following features:

  • Sort order in ORDER BY queries.

  • The to_char family of functions

  • The LIKE and ~ operators for pattern matching

The only severe drawback of using the locale support in PostgreSQL is its speed. So use locale only if you actually need it. It should be noted in particular that selecting a non-C locale disables index optimizations for LIKE and ~ operators, which can make a huge difference in the speed of searches that use those operators.

5.1.3. Problems

If locale support doesn't work in spite of the explanation above, check that the locale support in your operating system is okay. To check whether a given locale is installed and functional you can use Perl, for example. Perl has also support for locales and if a locale is broken perl -v will complain something like this:

$ export LC_CTYPE='not_exist'
$ perl -v
perl: warning: Setting locale failed.
perl: warning: Please check that your locale settings:
LC_ALL = (unset),
LC_CTYPE = "not_exist",
LANG = (unset)
are supported and installed on your system.
perl: warning: Falling back to the standard locale ("C").

Check that your locale files are in the right location. Possible locations include: /usr/lib/locale (Linux, Solaris), /usr/share/locale (Linux), /usr/lib/nls/loc (DUX 4.0). Check the locale man page of your system if you are not sure.

The directory src/test/locale contains a test suite for PostgreSQL's locale support.